WEST VALLEY CITY — West Valley City officials won't say it was a mistake to approve a controversial housing project for chronically homeless seniors in a residential business zone, but they're still willing to learn from their decision.

In fact, the city is considering tweaking its city code to prevent the circumstances that allowed the Kelly Benson Apartment project to be approved — without any input from the planning commission or City Council — from being repeated.

The council's decision to re-examine what should be allowed in a residential business zone comes on the heels of a public outcry against the housing facility that will be built at the intersection of 3100 South and 3600 West. Residents in the area don't want the facility built along the safe walking route to three nearby schools and they're upset the project was approved without their input.

"I think there were some mistakes made (in allowing the project)," said Scott Warr, a resident who's fighting to move the housing facility's location. "I'm OK with mistakes as long as they do what it takes to fix the problem."

According to city code, the residential business zone is supposed to be a transition area between residential areas and commercial areas. It's unclear under the current code whether an elderly housing project, such as the Kelly Benson Apartments, qualifies as a conditional use or a permitted use in the zone.

The housing project was initially approved as a facility similar to a rest home, but development of the project eventually changed hands to the housing authority, who intend to build apartments that accommodate the senior, chronically homeless population in Salt Lake County.

Although the nature of the project changed, the city's zoning administrator, Ron Weibel, decided in March 2007 that it still qualified as a permitted use in the zone. Thus, the project was not required to seek approval from the planning commission or the City Council.

West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle began reviewing the project's approval process when residents started to complain, and saw some flaws in the city's code.

"I don't think (Weibel) made a wrong decision, I just think our ordinances need to be clarified," Pyle said. "I can't think of a situation where multi-family use shouldn't be a conditional use in any section of the code."

Now the council is also considering whether multi-family residential units should be allowed in a residential business zone at all.

At this point, any changes the council makes to the residential business zone won't have a direct impact on the housing authority's project, but Warr says it's still an important step for the city to take.

"The reality is there are other residential business zones in the city, and just because it doesn't help us doesn't mean they shouldn't (change the zone)," Warr said. "We're still hoping the housing authority will come to the realization that this is the wrong location for this project."


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